D: Robert Stromberg. DP: Dean Semler. W: Linda Woolverton (based on an amalgamation of the Grimm fairy tale Briar Rose and the 1959’s Disney animated feature). Starring: Angelina Jolie/Elle Fanning/Sam Riley/Sharlto Copley/Juno Temple/Imelda Staunton/Lesley Manville/Brenton Thwaites.
This summer’s Disney revamped fairytale finds Angelina Jolie back on the screen in years and proves that a new take on an old story can actually be done well.
What failed in 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman (do we even need mention 2012’s Mirror Mirror?) was a new emotional perspective on an old story. Rather than simply tweaking the narrative and giving it a new setting, Maleficent actually builds a back story and world tangential to the original. The film’s emotional center is around Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent, a powerful fairy and guardian of her land, The Moors. Forsaken by her love she becomes the treacherous witch of the fairytale. Without giving much away, Jolie’s physicality is masterful here, her very cheekbones accentuated. Her laugh and ability to emote from such a costume provides the film with enough oomph to entertain older and younger audiences.
In contrast to the dark Jolie is the ethereal Elle Fanning as Aurora. As charming as her turn in 2011’s Super 8, Fanning’s innocent frolic and rosy cheek is infectious and doesn’t feel soiled with too much over production. But the memorable supporting actor here is Sam Riley as Jolie’s bird turned man turned bird who acts as her spy and confidant. A clever take on the animated film, he is a great narrative device as well as an effect.
First time director Robert Stromberg, whose extensive experience as a visual effects supervisor is evident here, is able to blend the effects into the narrative. Stromberg creates a layered world without tricks, which allows Jolie, whose as much of a special effect herself, to feel three dimensional. The film is also well paced by Linda Woolverton, 2010’s Alice in Wonderland scribe. Her twists to the original Grimm fairytale and 1959 Disney animated Sleeping Beauty give the story new depth without losing the charm of its previous incarnations. Although some lines will sound cheesy and simplified, there is enough distraction with good elements that I tended to forgive those moments.
Ultimately what works is the abandonment of a true romantic plot. The film remains centered around a mystical figure who longs to find her place in the order of things. Yet so different to the plot of the animated feature, it still compares in visual scope. Jolie’s costumes themselves pay homage without feeling over done. Maleficent is certainly marketed towards children, but bears less faults than its counterparts in cinemas.